The James Beard Award semifinalists have been announced for 2018 and Charleston’s made a strong showing with nine names on the list.

In order of appearance, let’s hear it for:

The Living Room at the Dewberry making the cut for Outstanding Bar Program.

Mike Lata, The Ordinary for Outstanding Chef

Cynthia Wong, Butcher & Bee for Outstanding Pastry Chef

Steve Palmer, The Indigo Road for Outstanding Restaurateur

FIG for Outstanding Wine Program

Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall, High Wire Distilling Co. for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional

Kevin Johnson, The Grocery; Alex Lira, Bar Normandy; and Rodney Scott, Rodney Scott’s BBQ for Best Chef: Southeast

So let’s break it down. First, this is FIG and Kevin Johnson’s fourth time making the Beard longlist for their respective categories. High Wire was also on the longlist last year, and Cynthia Wong makes her second appearance representing B&B, her fifth (we believe) in her career (give her the damn award already, Beardies!).

“It’s always a feeling of excitement and surprise,” says Wong of her many appearances on the longlist.  “I’m really honored and really happy. But every time I’ve been surprise because there’s so much talent out there and a lot of undiscovered talent.”

And that talent includes those in her kitchen. More than anything else, Wong says “the most important thign I can say is my team makes me look good. 99.9 percent of all the work is my team. My pastry sous chef, Mary Oyster, who is just incredible. Henry Jones, my former baker who is amazing and our lead baker, these are the people who make it work and make it happen.” And that’s not to mention the behind-the-scenes help Wong says she gets from her husband, John David Harmon. “My husband is so supportive and does all the heavy lifting and takes them to school and deals with my fucked up work hours and the fact that I can never do anything ever and has been the person to have the job with the insurance and benefits so that I can be an artist and think about ice cream bars. It’s important to acknowledge him.”

As for those names new to the Best Chef: Southeast list are Alex Lira for Bar Normandy and Rodney Scott of Scott’s BBQ, both of whom were included (along with Little Jack’s) on Bon Appetit’s 2017 50 Best New Restaurants in America.

We caught up with the Scott moments after he had received word of his inclusion this morning.

“I’m stunned. Still sitting in a corner in my restaurant wondering … wow,” Scott said.
“I never expected this. I alway said, ‘My beard award would be somebody’s repeat visit, to see the customer twice. That’s what I can compare to my Beard.”

Now a member of 2018’s class of semifinalist Scott’s still in much in shock.

“I am truly speechless. I’m on top the world.”

Suffice it to say, Scott’s Thursday Funk party celebrating his first year in business is likely to have an extra celebratory tone tonight.

Here’s the full semifinalist list.

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